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Book Review: The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway (3/5)

19 Nov

I find it hard to review short story collections but I’ll do my best here. In this case, we have a consistent character, Nick Adams, who is more or less Hemingway himself. I’ve always been interested in Adams because his stories are set in Northern Michigan where my parents have a summer home. I love the area though I know it’s very different from Hemingway’s time.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Other books by Hemingway reviewed on this blog:

The Sun Also Rises (3/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

The famous Nick Adams stories show a memorable character growing from child to adolescent to soldier, veteran, writer, and parent – a sequence closely paralleling the events of Hemingway’s life.”But,” as Philip Young writes in the preface, “Hemingway naturally intended his stories to be understood and enjoyed without regard for such considerations – as they have been for a long time.”

From what I know of Hemingway, these stories paralleled his life more than just a bit. At least, in the locations, hobbies, and stages of life if not in the details. I’m not sure if he ever escaped from the game board with his sister or saw an Indian woman give birth. But he lived in those places and knew about those things. It’s no coincidence Nick went to Europe, fought in the war, and had a son.

Nick is believable because he is so much like Hemingway. He’s very close to nature and seems to understand the land in a way few people do anymore. He often comes off as closed off, someone who enjoys being alone more than he enjoys being with people. When he is with people, he judges them a lot and speculates about their lives and motivations while showing little interest in them. He’s an observer and I think it’s safe to say Hemingway would have been the same way. To write about people the way he does, he had to watch them closely.

There were very few repeat characters in the stories. A few showed up, like his friend George. My favorite was his sister, Littless, from The Last Good Country. She was a sweet girl, and very dedicated to her older brother. I struggled to guess their ages, but I assume he was about 16-18 and she was around 14. I loved the dynamic between the two of them and it made me wish I had an older brother. Though who knows if relationships like those are common.

Ernest Hemingway
Image via the Nobel Prize website

I didn’t relate to the characters, cut I could relate to the setting in this story. I love the woods of Northern Michigan. Even though a lot of it is now populated, one of my favorite things is riding my bike up there through the national forest. It gives me peace in much the same way Nick felt when he was fishing the rivers. Being alone in nature is soothing and I could relate to Nick’s peace.

My favorite story was The Last Good Country. It was the longest, and I think that spoke to my preference for the novel. However, I think the other point of view could have been reduced if not cut. Being with Nick and Littless in the forest, having another person there that emphasized how comfortable Nick was alone in nature, was really fun and I enjoyed hearing it.

My least favorite story was The Way You’ll Never Be. I guess I didn’t get the point of this story. Maybe I was in heavy traffic and missed an important point. Either way, I don’t enjoy the military stories as much as I like the ones set back home or in Europe after the war. This one seemed to be too much of a satire for my tastes. I know Hemingway had a lot to say about war, the point of it, and the humanlessness of it. I just didn’t get much of it out of this story.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Stacy Keach. I had mixed feelings about his narration. I thought he had a good voice to give to Nick and his portrayal of other characters was good. They were different enough and the accents were present without being distracting. However, his speed and volume changed too much for me. Listening in my car, I have to frequently turn up the volume when I’m on the highway and when I get off. However, with Keach I had to turn it up for certain paragraphs or even the end of emotional sentences.

A lot of Nick’s stories were about man and nature. As much as Nick was a peace in nature, he didn’t belong there. He manipulated nature to meet his needs but he always had to return to civilization. It was a place to hide or escape, but he couldn’t live there. He brought things that couldn’t be replenished and he always went home in the end. They were quick adventures when he needed a rush, but they were never going to be a permanent move.

Writer’s Takeaway: Making a character like yourself is a good way to make him believable. Hemingway could pour his feelings and reactions into Nick and that must have made him easy to write. But it doesn’t make him interesting to read. Nick was the least interesting part of his stories to me (with the exception of Fathers and Sons). It did make for a good way to explore secondary characters, though.

Overall, enjoyable in parts, but not an overall winner. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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